Emergency Management and Disaster Preparedness in Pharmacy


HeatherLyn Gray, MPH, CEM, CPhT


During last year’s CPhT Live 2021, the National Pharmacy Technician Association provided me with an opportunity that I had been waiting years for, bridging the gap between emergency management and pharmacy, as well as (hopefully) instilling in the participants the desire to advocate for pharmacy technicians to participate in disaster preparedness and emergency management for their pharmacies.


In 2017, I transitioned from working as a hospital pharmacy technician to the emergency management field. In 2019, I officially earned the Emergency Management Coordinator role for a prominent South Carolina hospital. You would think that transition would mean that I was no longer working with pharmacy, and you would be mistaken.


Hospital pharmacies ensure that facilities have medications to respond to emergencies such as delays and shortages due to impacts from natural, technological, and human-caused disasters.


In 2017, when Hurricane Maria impacted Puerto Rico and brought the island’s pharmaceutical manufacturing industry to a halt, and further exacerbated intravenous fluid shortages, pharmacies were left to figure out how to navigate a damaged supply chain and find the medications and supplies they needed to ensure patient care. As the COVID-19 pandemic emerged and evolved, so did hospital pharmacy operations as shortages expanded from medications to personal protective equipment to staff.


Of course, COVID-19 did (and continues to do) several retail pharmacies, providing frontline services such as point-of-care testing and vaccination on top of their patient care and medication dispensing services for the community members. In January, retail pharmacies had also been tasked with dispensing N95 respirators.


During any other emergency or pending emergency, retail pharmacies may experience surges in patients requesting medications to get them through while they shelter in place for incoming storms or evacuate due to wildfires.


Following disasters, as the community is recovering from damage or other impacts, retail pharmacies may be the first place that community members seek to replace lost medications, restock their first aid kits, or get back into the routine of picking up their next month’s worth of maintenance medications.


Pharmacy's major role in emergency management is related to maintaining pharmaceutical supplies. Understanding how the pharmaceutical supply chain works and identifying alternative wholesale distributors ahead of supply chain disruptions helps overcome challenges related to shortages.


Establishing inventory management practices that consider daily operations and emergency planning ensures your pharmacy has what it needs to get through the day, as well as a little more just in case your next shipment is delayed or there is a sudden increase in demand. If your hospital pharmacy is interested in assessing whether your facility has adequate supplies of medications on hand for a disaster, check out this calculator tool.


Honestly, I could talk about emergency management and pharmacy all day – and if you’re interested, please do not hesitate to reach out – but there are two other topics that I quickly want to share with you: CHEMPACK and community outreach.


For the sake of word count, if you’re interested in learning more about the CHEMPACK program, click here. As for community outreach, this is something that retail pharmacies can be involved in as a familiar source of reliable information for members of their communities. We talk about the emergency response because that is the most visible phase.


Still, emergency preparedness is just as (if not more) important, and retail pharmacies are in the position to provide education and resources that reach just about everyone in their community.


It’s early June as I write this. Both the 2022 Pacific and Atlantic Hurricane Seasons have officially started. The national emergency declaration for the COVID-19 pandemic remains in effect as multiple cases of monkeypox continue to emerge in countries that do not normally see such activity, including the United States. Wildfires, extreme temperatures, floods, and droughts affect communities nationwide, with more than 200 mass shootings have occurred since the start of the year.


We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Still, we do know that pharmacies in all settings play an important role in mitigating against, preparing for, responding to, and recovering from the emergencies and disasters that affect our communities.